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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Taliban blow up Afghan power lines over funding dispute 

Outages left Kabul in darkness for hours

In this May 27, 2016 file photo, Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan. Allauddin Khan / AP Photo
In this May 27, 2016 file photo, Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan. Allauddin Khan / AP Photo

The Afghan Taliban blew up several electricity power lines early on Monday, leaving parts of Kabul in darkness in an act of sabotage that follows a funding dispute with the government.

The insurgents earlier this month said they would target power lines that feed the city's supply if public welfare projects in Kunduz and Baghlan provinces, both of which have a strong Taliban presence, were not speeded up.

The pylons were blown up in Baghlan, north of the capital, in a step that comes despite President Ashraf Ghani's proposal to have peace talks.

"Insurgents attacked some towers last night around 2am," Waheedullah Towhidi, an official with Afghanistan's state-owned electricity department, told The National.

"They detonated mines around the pylons, fracturing the power supply."

Power was out for 16 hours on Monday and expected to be out for most of Tuesday.

In a statement issued last week to Afghan media outlets, the Taliban warned that the transmission lines would be hit.

In what appears to be an attempt to appear as champions of the people, the Taliban regards the welfare projects as vital.

The impasse is a further complication to the chances of peace.

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Afghanistan: Taliban drop first hint about peace talks

The Afghan governor who is defying government

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Mr Ghani last month offered incentives to members of the Taliban willing to renounce violence, including political recognition, a release of prisoners, as well as passports. The offer also said the Taliban would be allowed to establish a political office in Kabul and the president said efforts would be made to remove sanctions against the group's leaders.

Since Mr Ghani issued his peace offer without preconditions. The Taliban, however, has continued its attacks and not publicly given a formal response to the president.

And in its threat to damage the power system the group said the government had not only failed to implement public projects in districts under their control but had also cut electricity supplies in regions that they dominate.

Mr Towhidi denied that this was the case.

"We provide electricity to all Afghans across the country irrespective of whether the Taliban operate in those regions," he said.

Pictures showed the pylons smashed to the ground by the force of the blasts.

"It could be a while before these lines can be fixed and restarted," said Ajmal Omari, who lives near the site that was hit, noting that the area targeted is difficult to access due to security as well as poor roads.

Soldiers from the Afghan National Army, however, had reached the area and secured it.

The Afghan Taliban first targeted the capital's power system in 2016, destroying several pylons in the same province and plunging the capital into darkness.

They then targeted government workers and engineers, preventing them from fixing the damage that caused major disruption to Kabul's electricity for almost five weeks.

Towhidi said repairs on the pylons that were blown up on Monday had started and would be completed in two days, adding that Kabul would receive back up power from hydroelectric stations outside the capital as well as diesel powered generators.

Those sources, however, are not nearly sufficient to meet Kabul’s increasing electricity needs of 680 MW, per day. Of this, 260 MW is supplied from abroad, including a power line from Uzbekistan that was destroyed on Monday.

Despite billions of dollars of investment in the power infrastructure in Afghanistan, the country remains heavily dependent on external sources of power which are vulnerable to not only insurgent attacks but also the country's inclement weather. In 2015, a snow storm in the Salang pass, the mountain range that connects Kabul and Baghlan province, destroyed several pylons, leaving the citizens of Kabul without power.

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